Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas

To all my constituents, council colleagues (of whatever political hue) and particularly to all those who are working over the holidays to keep us safe and keep the infrastructure running - my best wishes for a happy Christmas and a wonderful New Year.

Wheelie Bins?

You may be aware that Eric Pickles offered a £250 million fund open to competitive bids from local authorities, ostensibly to help councils restore weekly bin collections - which Eric believes are a basic human right. The fact that best estimates suggest that it would cost something over £500 million to restore weekly collections may explain why only a single council actually bid to do that - Blackpool. Other local authorities have either used the cash offer to "protect" weekly rounds or to add something else to existing fortnightly collections. Birmingham submitted a bid for £29.5 million of that fund, that will increase the frequency of recycling collections for the quarter of the city that recycles the most, expand the rewards scheme, modernise our collection fleet and bring wheeled bins to about 90% of homes in the city. Although 40 bids were turned down, we had a bid sufficiently good enough to be allocated full funding as it delivered across the board exactly what the government wanted - Birmingham's bid received high praise for this. This will cover the capital costs of the service transformation. 

We've committed to consulting with residents as to how the scheme is introduced and to trialling it in two wards, to ensuring that it isn't a 'one size fits all' offer, so that where wheeled bins are entirely inappropriate, they will not be used. Assisted collections will be maintained, so that people who currently get help with handling their bin bags will get help with their wheeled bins (every round has a list of them, usually with a few more that the crews know about as well). Waste disposal has always been changing. BBC Four have had a couple of excellent programmes on recently about how we've dealt with rubbish, from the days when the old metal dustbins really did only contain dust, as food waste was put into bins for pig swill, through the expansion of rubbish as the economy recovered post-war and consumerism took hold, right through to the arrival of the black bag and their replacement by wheeled bins. 

I happen to believe that this will be good for Birmingham for a number of reasons, so I was disappointed to see the Liberal Democrat motion at the last council meeting, even more disappointed at the speeches and then at the call-in to scrutiny committee from the Tories last week. From the sound of it, you would believe that the 80% of authorities (including Solihull, Walsall, Sandwell, Wolverhampton, Lichfield and Coventry) that use wheeled bins must have descended into some post-apocalyptic hell, where the few bins not blazing in the street are being used to help burglars enter your home. Still, given their current rate of electoral descent, you aren't surprised at seeing the Liberal Democrats leaping aboard any bandwagon that trundles past. Their reports don't match the reality of anywhere I've ever lived or been that has these bins. Indeed, on a fact finding expedition into the dystopia that must be Solihull since wheeled bins were introduced back in 2009, I didn't have to negotiate rows of aflame bins or dodge hordes of burglars leaping down from conveniently placed chunks of moulded plastic. Friends living outside Birmingham's borders confirm that my experience is not unusual.

Yes, some people will set some bins on fire - West Midlands Fire Service currently attend ten fires a day involving rubbish. Yes, some will be used to facilitate entry to properties by thieves - who currently manage it anyway. I note in passing that one police team in wheelie-bin infested Solihull have just reported that they've managed a whole month without a burglary from a property being reported.

Will they obstruct the streets? Their physical footprint is very similar to the recycling boxes that are currently used, so if left out they will offer the same level of obstruction. Visually, they are more intrusive, but shouldn't we balance that against the wider public good of increased recyling?

Their objections entirely fail to address the funding gap. We know that by the end of the decade, if we do anothing, we will face an £8 million gap in the finances of this service alone. We currently spend £1 million a year on bin bags - and residents add to that with the bags they buy themselves. If anyone tells you that they want to retain bin bags - as the Yardley Liberal Democrats decided a couple of weeks back - then they also need to tell you what other service should be axed to pay for it, as we face a bleak funding future from a brutal and uncaring Tory/Liberal Democrat government. I'd rather see us spend that £8 million on services for those most in need than on continuing a failing system. Currently, we spend about £75 per household on bin collection - this will cut that cost to under £40 per property. 

I've praised the work that was done to improve recycling in Birmingham over the past decade - including that by the last administration - but we can't rest on our laurels. We send very little to landfill, largely because we send it to Tyseley to be burnt to generate electricity. We currently have a waste system not fit for the future - an elderly fleet of vehicles, with breakdowns causing missed collections. Our streets are strewn with rubbish, feeding a growing population of rats, all because of ripped bags spilling their contents onto the highway. Rubbish collection is our most visible service and the £29.5 million from the government allows us to invest in it and turn it round. 

Contrary to some views, this isn't a hasty decision. Way back in 2007, a council review suggested using smaller wheeled bins for weekly residual collections and noted that giving residents a 140 litre wheeled bin for recycling would “considerably increase capacity.” Indeed, the report proposed constituency-level pilot programmes, but failed to actually put any money into them. The new plans envisage a standard 240 litre wheeled bin for recycling – an even greater opportunity for improving volume, especially when allied to the incentive scheme and weekly recycling collections for a quarter of the city. We have learnt from the 80% of councils that collect from wheeled bins – their experience is that these are safer for our workforce, they increase the volume of recycling, they are cheaper to operate and they help keep the streets cleaner. 

The same report raised two objections to wheeled bins - one of the capital expenditure, which this bid will resolve - and one of the potential for them to increase the volume of waste disposed of. There is mixed evidence on this latter issue. Bear in mind that bins were originally launched some 30 years ago when the idea of a doorstep recycling provision was only a glint in the eye of the most determined tree-hugger. Bins were designed to handle volumes of residual waste and nothing else. There is evidence that the larger bins encourage more waste to be put into them - but there is also a slight gain there, as there is also evidence that the amounts of rubbish taken to household waste sites declined as a result, so saving the carbon dioxide emissions of several cars making that trip. There is a degree of 'channel-shift' there, not just increased volume. 

Like many councils, Bristol initially issued the large 240 litre wheeled bins for residual waste (residual is the technical term for everything that isn't recycled - whatever you currently put into your black bags), but they have recently replaced them with smaller bins, to encourage residents to recycle more - something that early adopters of wheeled bins now recognise as a good move. When I appeared on BBC Radio WM, residents from other authorities were incredulous at the level of opposition from Birmingham residents to the very idea of wheeled bins and I'm convinced that if you come back in five or six years' time, nobody will be asking for a return to black bags.

A decade ago, the Health and Safety Executive produced a report on manual handling in waste collection, which came out quite clearly in favour of wheeled bins - although they do bring about new issues in terms of safe handling. Far too many of our bin crew members either leave service early through ill health or die soon after retirement - it is a tough and very physical job. Providing a bin will help prevent manual handling and sharps injuries, as well as helping to reduce the food for the rat population. Our people have a right to come to work in as safe an environment as we can make it - that isn't about being a health and safety fascist, it is about being human. When you have a worker off sick with stress for six months following a needle stick injury - to the point where his marriage broke up - don't we owe them the safest working environment possible?

In 2009, the Local Government Association, responding to a brief campaign by the Daily Mail, surveyed 28 local authorities to get a quick snapshot view and every one that responded said that introducing wheeled bins increased recycling. As Richard Kemp, then Liberal Democrat deputy chair of the LGA, said,
All the evidence shows that most people like their wheelie bins and think that they make it easier and cleaner to throw out the rubbish. People also find that wheelie bins help to reduce litter on the streets
Food waste was part of the initial proposal from the last administration, but once we actually got to bidding stage, the Department of Communities and Local Government's own advice indicated that a food waste collection was not a high priority for funding – indeed, a third of those applications failed to pass the Pickles test, including applications from Bolton and a £17 million bid from Leeds. Elsewhere, we have seen Nottinghamshire scrap their food waste collections because of costs, as did Pendle in 2011. Shropshire scrapped their separate collections - used to feed an anaerobic digester - back in 2010 in favour of a mixed green/food waste collection to supply in vessel composting. I still want us to explore food waste recycling, but it has to cost in and we need to build the platform that allows us to go down this path. There is no doubt at all that wheeled bins and increasing the capacity for mixed recyclates will improve our recycling rates faster and more sustainably than food waste. That has great potential, but advocates of food waste collections now miss the point that it needs huge investment in education and massive behavioural change to achieve the figures that they have suggested. 

The other practical issue is that a weekly food waste collection would actually remove the need for a weekly residuals (black bag) collection - indeed, if you look at the two year WRAP study on food waste collections, the collection model with the lowest drop off in participation is exactly that model. The graph to the left shows a clear bias towards alternate week collections - note how the red stars are higher and further to the right, indicating both higher participation rates and higher volumes per household for alternate week collections. On that basis alone, I'm very surprised that any food waste collection schemes were approved, but that may be a matter of having to spend the money to avoid losing face. The DCLG were also quite firm that they wanted to see some public support for food waste schemes - either through specific consultation or even just through a manifesto commitment. As we know, neither the Tories nor the Liberal Democrats had the imagination to come up with a manifesto prior to May 2012, so they didn't even try to get over that hurdle. From what little we know of their scheme, I think it would really have struggled to get the funding required and would certainly not have won almost £30 million from the government. If we were already at an alternate week collection model, then we might have succeeded, but it is hard to see the economic justification for bringing in food waste collections and maintaining a weekly residual waste round - I'm not aware of any bids that offered that as an option. The Tory/Lib Dem bid would have failed on value for money terms.  

We found out in scrutiny committee on Friday that Cllr Tim Huxtable (Con) had taken it upon himself to discuss with government ministers whether they would be open to us reopening the bid to discuss changes - to reinsert the food waste scheme, for example. If Cllr Huxtable has such good contacts within the DCLG, then I think we'd be much happier if he could talk to them about not leaving Birmingham in the lurch by ripping away funding from a city with serious and broad needs. But he'd prefer to use his time to talk rubbish. 

To quote from experience elsewhere:
“The introduction of the wheeled bin service was a massive improvement to the bag and box format we had before. We wanted to give residents the chance to be able to recycle more and make it as easy as possible for them and it has been a huge success so far. It wasn't a one size fits all solution as we recognised many properties in the city didn't have enough space... so... we've adapted... some properties can have smaller bins, or can stick with the bag and box collection service. Since the introduction of the wheeled bins, the city has constantly exceeded recycling targets set by the government.”
That is from a Liberal Democrat councillor in Liverpool – a city with a very similar spread of housing to Birmingham and one where the council successfully collect from 90% of properties. 
Even a former Birmingham Liberal Democrat councillor and cabinet member wrote in August that if we won this bid, Cllr McKay and the Labour administration (actually, he also included me, but I can't take any credit) would have
“brilliantly outmanoeuvred every single council in the country and will brilliantly grab £28.5 million from a £250 million pot.”
Which we did.
Other parties seem determined to stand in the way of saving money, improving our waste collection service and delaying further development. Along the way, they would condemn the poorest in our city to further cuts to services. These bins will save money, protect our workforce from sharp objects and heavy lifting, keep our streets cleaner and make our city greener. Of course there will be problems and difficulties along the way - any change will bring challenges, but we will solve them. It is what Birmingham does. 

I accept change is difficult for many people, but even in these most challenging of times, shouldn't we try to make our city a better place to live?

At the last council meeting, we were treated to a Liberal Democrat led attack on Labour's plan to bring wheeled bins to Birmingham. This piece is based on a speech I hoped to deliver, before we were timed out without even a chance for Cllr McKay to respond to the attacks from the combined opposition forces. I've also modified it following last week's call in by the Tories of Cabinet's acceptance of the Pickles money.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

West Midlands Fire Service Consultation

The fire service are consulting on their future model of operations - what response times they should set, what their priorities should be, how they should respond to incidents and whether they should continue to prioritise road traffic collision reduction.

They want your views, so you can either watch the videos and comment online or you can complete a paper version and return it for their consideration.

Do have a look.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Planning Applications to 15 December 2012

Nothing last week, but one this week. 

2012/08246/PA - 14 Starcross Road
Erection of detached outbuilding to rear. 

You can find the details by inputting the reference number into the Council online database here

If you have any comments, you can submit them online - feel free to pass your comments on to me.

Budget Consultation 2013

Tonight sees the last of the public meetings as part of the consultation process for the 2013/14 budget for Birmingham City Council. It will be held in Committee Room 3 & 4 in the Council House and the public are welcome. I've been to two of the three so far and they've been lively affairs, but generally well-ordered. We've heard the detail from Albert and the cabinet team, who have answered questions from the floor and spent far more time than was originally allocated to ensure that all those who want to speak get the chance.

Incidentally, if you miss the meeting, there will be a webchat with Sir Albert on Wednesday 19 December from 6:30pm to 7:30pm on twitter using the hashtag #askalbert. Even after that, you can send your comments to or write to Budget Views, Room 127, Council House, Victoria Square, Birmingham B1 1BB.

Youth services and support for the disabled are key issues that keep being brought up. For those that doubt the importance of consultation, Cllr Ian Ward revealed that the consultation into the Council Tax Benefit scheme that we have to introduce next year has raised some important issues and he is minded to adjust our proposal to ensure that the disabled are protected, even if they are moved off Disability Living Allowance onto Employment Support Allowance and he is also looking to protect carers as well. Both of those are directly attributable to responses received from the consultation process.

One thing that comes up time and time again is a demand that we set an illegal budget, as Liverpool did in the 80s - where we plan to spend more than we actually receive.

Councillors can no longer be personally surcharged or jailed for setting an illegal budget. Actually, if that was all it took to sort this, there are several in the Labour Group who would accept it with equanimity, but that isn't the reality. While the council can move small amounts around between years to deal with events, it isn't legal for it to set a deficit budget that spends more than it brings in. The council could set a budget that was in deficit, but the chief finance officer (acting under s114 of the Local Government Finance Act 1988 - after the Tories got wise to that trick) would refuse to sign it off. Thereafter, the council would be unable to incur any expenditure, enter into any new contracts or collect any council tax until a lawful budget was set. Services in Birmingham would actually cease to be delivered fairly rapidly. Ultimately, if the council still refused to set a budget, the Department of Communities and Local Government would send in a small team to consult with officers and agree a plan of action, which would result in a budget being set solely to meet financial demands, with no thought for services. As the council had not been able to collect council tax, this would lead to a further shortfall in our budget, meaning deeper cuts still.

I do not believe that residents in Birmingham would thank any council for playing that sort of political game and it would be a dereliction of duty on our part to play it.

Who would you rather take decisions about services that affect you - Pickles' Whitehall mob or your local councillors?

All those who cite Liverpool as an example should remember exactly what concessions the government made when faced with that stand in 1985 when the authority refused to set a budget. Nothing. Not one iota. Just as Gove is spoiling for a fight with the teachers to prove his muscularity, so Pickles would relish putting the boot into Birmingham. We know where it ends - which is why I've included the clip from Neil Kinnock's magnificent 1985 conference speech.

We're taking enough of a beating from this government already. A deficit budget would not work and would actually damage the services that this council is trying to protect.

We were elected in May to run this city and we'll do just that. The budget envelope within which we have to work is not sufficient for the needs of Birmingham, but that is not the fault of this council, but the fault of the Tory and Liberal Democrat government that sets that envelope.

We just have to do the best we can with what we have.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Acocks Green Library Update

Just to let people know - the temporary closure has been delayed for the time being as the contractor isn't ready to start work yet.

Birmingham's Christmas Rubbish Collections

There will be no collections on either Christmas Day or Boxing Day. 

If you are scheduled to have a black bag collection on  25 December, your next collection will be on Tuesday 1 January 2013. Any recycling collection planned for Christmas Day will be completed on Tuesday 8 January.

If you are down for a bin collection on 26 December, the collection will be made on Wednesday 2 January 2013. Any recycling collection scheduled for Boxing Day will be made on Wednesday 9 January.

There shouldn't be any Tuesday collections in Acocks Green - that's the 'fallow' day in this ward, but there are a number of Wednesday collections - including one in my own road.

Please remember that green waste collections are now in their usual mid-winter suspension until the 25 February 2013. 

Don't forget that our Household Recyling Centres - including the one at Tyseley - are open as usual each day (except Christmas Day and Boxing Day) from 8am to 6pm weekdays and 8am to 4:30pm at weekends if you have any recycling that you want to dispose of in between collections.

Also, the police do advise that you don't tempt thieves by leaving identifiable packaging visible outside your home. Take it to the recycling centre if you possibly can.

Friday, December 07, 2012

Temporary Library Closure from 31 December

Acocks Green Library will close for essential roof repairs on the 31 December 2012. There will be a short hand over period to the builders and work is due to start on the 7th January, with a planned reopening date in early April 2013. Stewart and I will both be keeping a close eye on the works, as when South Yardley library closed for repairs, it took eighteen months to reopen.

Sadly, we've been unable to secure an alternative local site in the meantime, despite some very hard work by the officers and local groups, but we will be able to offer additional opening hours at South Yardley library, just a short hop away on the 11 bus towards the Swan Island.

Mon - 9am - 7pm (extended)
Tue - 9am - 5pm
Wed - 9am - 5pm (new)
Thu - 9am - 7pm
Fri - 9am - 5pm
Sat - 9am - 5pm

These should apply from when the library reopens after the New Year holidays until services transfer back to Acocks Green, when normal hours will resume.

If there are any further updates, I'll let everyone know.

EDIT: The closure and repairs have been delayed as the contractors won't be ready in time. More when I get it.

Upcycle your unwanted bike with Gear Up

I ran across Gear Up at the Sheldon Country Park festival this summer. They are one of several around the city and a small team of unemployed young people have got together to form a social enterprise to repair 'pre-loved' bikes for resale. Along the way, one of them has acquired the skills to be a Cytech Level 2 mechanic.

They are running low on stock, so would welcome any donations. You can either drop them off at the Hub on Bromford Drive or contact them on 0121 448 3739 or Melanie Glass by email on gearup (at) to arrange collection.

Well worth supporting them.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Budget Consultation

If you remember, Albert Bore stunned the media a few weeks back stating that this government was engineering the end of local government as we have come to know it.

We're currently consulting on next year's budget and we need your views.

The Tory and Liberal Democrat government are forcing us to make £110 million of cuts to our services this year. Unlike previous years, it won't be officers pushed out to justify political decisions - the Labour Cabinet will be at these meetings to hear your views and explain the choices ahead.

The next few years will be difficult, to put it mildly. The cuts that we can see coming down the line from the government will slice almost half of the money that we can actually choose how it is spent. That has to impact our services and all we can do is try to minimise the impact on those most in need.

Travel details:

Erdington Baptist Church - Wood End Road, Erdington, B24 8AD
Rail: Erdington Station                                  Bus: 11, 25, 88, 167, 168, 638, 966, 966a

South Yardley Library - Yardley Rd, B25 8LT
Rail: Acocks Green Station                           Bus: 11, 58, 59, 59A, 60, 900, 957

Friends Meeting House, Cotteridge - 23a Watford Rd, B30
Rail: Kings Norton Station                            Bus: 11, 18, 45, 47, 48, 49, 84, 145, 146

Committee Rooms 3 and 4 - The Council House, Victoria Square, B1 1BB
All rail and bus routes into the city 

Wednesday, December 05, 2012


A little bit of good news for the poor residents on Tyseley Lane who complained about the awful noise caused by an ill-fitting drain cover on the Warwick Road. Amey were out today reconstructing it and have now resolved the problem - so that means that the residents should get a good night's sleep tonight. I was lucky enough to run into them at the Yarnfield police meeting, so was able to share the good news with them. It has taken some nagging at Amey to get this sorted.

Lighting Columns to be Fixed
Three along Warwick Road, one on Dolphin Lane, one on Flint Green Road

Gulleys to be cleared
Spring Road, Onslow Road by the junction with Tyseley Lane

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Diary Date - Full Council

Full Council
Tuesday 4 December 2012 - 2pm
Council Chamber - streamed live too.

Key agenda items:

  • Question time
    • Public questions to any cabinet member or district committee chair
    • Questions from any councillor to a committee chair or lead member of a joint board
    • Questions from councillors other than cabinet members to a cabinet member
    • Questions from councillors other than cabinet members to the leader or deputy leader
  • Review of City Council's Constitution
  • Gambling Act 2005 - Statement of Licensing Principles
  • Reports of Overview & Scrutiny Committees
    • Closing the skills gap
    • Adults with autism and the criminal justice system
  • Motions for debate

Planning Applications to 1 Dec 2012

And a bit more calm this week with just two. 

2012/07652/PA - 71 Arden Road
Erection of single storey rear extension

2012/07868/PA - 19 Fox Green Crescent
Erection of two storey side and rear extension and single storey rear and forward extensions. 

You can find the details by inputting the reference number into the Council online database here

If you have any comments, you can submit them online - feel free to pass your comments on to me.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Planning Applications to 24 November 2012

A Christmas planning rush!

2012/07043/PA - 1073 Warwick Road
Change of use of first and second floor from dwelling use (C3) to beauty salon (Sui Generis).
'Sui generis' classes are those that don't fit into the usual range of classes listed here.

2012/07688/PA - The Oaklands Primary School, Dolphin Lane
Erection of two storey extension to accommodate 6 no. classrooms and associated external works (this is to allow the expansion of the school to cope with the increase in school age children. 

2012/07821/PA - 1091 Warwick Road
Erection of conservatory to front & single storey rear extension, installation of staircase to rear

2012/07754/PA - 122 Westley Road (land at rear)
Erection of 1 no. 3 bedroom detached dwelling house

2012/07692/PA - 56 Mayfield Road, Tyseley
Erection of single storey rear extension

You can find the details by inputting the reference number into the Council online database here

If you have any comments, you can submit them online - feel free to pass your comments on to me.

Monday, November 26, 2012


Odds and ends to be fixed:

Overton Road, Warwick Road, Severne Road, Francis Road
Failed or faulty lighting columns to be fixed

Acocks Green
Two Christmas lighting panels to be repaired.

Oxford Road
Damaged illuminated bollard to be refixed.

Warwick Road/Tyseley Lane
Severn Trent access cover clanking whenever drivers pass over. Sounds like nothing, but this is a busy road and the closest neighbours are being kept awake with the noise. I'm on the case with Amey who recently resurfaced the road.

Olton Boulevard East
Tree pruning ongoing here - this is completing work that should have been done in the Spring. It has largely been done, but will be finished soon. I'm keeping an eye on this one.

Warwick Road, Shirley Road bus shelter, Acocks Green School - Westley Road
Offensive graffiti and it all looks to have been done by the same aerosol warrior who has done it elsewhere. Now removed.

Friday, November 23, 2012

On with the lights

And a week after the city centre lights went on - complete with camels and the Lord Mayor in a sleigh - Acocks Green switched on its lights, with Black Country comic Lizzie Wiggins doing the honours.

Christmas really does seem to get earlier every year.

There are some more pictures over at the Acocks Green Focus Group.

The Farmers' Market seemed to be back up close to strength this month after a quiet October.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Diary Date - Yardley District Committee - 22 Nov

Yardley District Committee
Thursday 22 November 2012
2pm - Committee Room 1, Council House

Key items of interest (check the agenda below for full list):
  • Adult education service
  • Housing repairs performance report
  • Revenue budget monitoring (April to October)
  • Birmingham Development Plan - consultation on growth options
  • Update from Amey
This is a public meeting and the chair has the option to allow members of the public to speak. Sadly, this meeting isn't going to be streamed on the web as we've yet to get the committee rooms set up to do that. Hopefully that will not be the case in the near future. 

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Planning Applications to 17 November 2012

Another week with just a single application - possibly more controversial

2012/07602/PA - 17 Shirley Road

Change of use from vacant unit to amusement arcade (use class sui generis)

'Sui generis' classes are those that don't fit into the usual range of classes listed here.

You can find the details by inputting the reference number into the Council online database here

If you have any comments, you can submit them online - feel free to pass your comments on to me.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Police & Crime Commissioner results - Yardley

For those interested, here are the figures for Birmingham Yardley's four wards. Labour won all four, with the LibDems pushed back into fourth place in both Acocks Green and - shockingly - their fortress of Sheldon. This can't be good news for either their councillors or the current MP, John Hemming.

Acocks Green
Bennett (Con)         222      10.9%
Etheridge (UKIP)   112       5.5%
Hannon (Ind)          314      15.4%
Jones (Lab)            936       46.0%
Khan (LD)             206       10.2%
Rumble (Ind)          90         4.4%
Webley (Ind)          152       7.5%

Spoilt                      57         2.7% of all votes cast (incl invalid)
Turnout                               10.2%

South Yardley
Bennett (Con)         257     10.7%
Etheridge (UKIP)   137      5.7%
Hannon (Ind)          261      10.9%
Jones (Lab)            1009     42.2%
Khan (LD)             503       21.0%
Rumble (Ind)          89         3.7%
Webley (Ind)          136       5.7%

Spoilt                      77         3.1% of all votes cast (incl invalid)
Turnout                               11.6%

Stechford and Yardley North
Bennett (Con)         209      11.1%      
Etheridge (UKIP)   193       10.3%
Hannon (Ind)          261       12.3%
Jones (Lab)            667       35.5%
Khan (LD)             332       17.7%
Rumble (Ind)          89         4.7%
Webley (Ind)          157       8.4%

Spoilt                      48         2.5% of all votes cast (incl invalid)
Turnout                               10.4%

Bennett (Con)        254      15.8%
Etheridge (UKIP)   150      9.3%
Hannon (Ind)          326      20.3%
Jones (Lab)            427      26.6%
Khan (LD)             234      14.6%
Rumble (Ind)          98        6.1%
Webley (Ind)         119       7.4%

Spoilt                      41        2.5% of all votes cast (incl invalid)
Turnout                               10.0%

Yardley Constituency
Bennett (Con)         942     11.9%
Etheridge (UKIP)   592      7.5%
Hannon (Ind)          1133    14.3%
Jones (Lab)            3039     38.4%
Khan (LD)             1277     16.1%
Rumble (Ind)          90         4.6%
Webley (Ind)          152       7.1%

Spoilt                      223       2.7% of all votes cast (incl invalid)
Turnout                               10.6%

And so the white smoke did rise from the ICC...

The West Midlands elected its first Police and Crime Commissioner and it has got a good one. Bob's got a great deal of experience dealing with the police, but he's also a decent, down to earth person and there was nobody else on the list who - despite my party allegiance - came anywhere close to being up to his standards.

He's got a tough job ahead of him, though - he's now the Head of Blame for crime in the West Midlands. Never mind that the biggest chunk of his budget comes from the Home Office - the police precept that we pay with our council tax only makes up 14% of the total spent on policing in the West Midlands and would have had to rise in total by over 40% last year to cover the cuts imposed by central government. From now on, though, the government will have a defence to criticism - they will point to your Police & Crime Commissioner as the person to hold to account.

The election itself saw a record low turnout, which the Prime Minister blamed on the public 
the turnout was always going to be low, when you're electing a new post for the first time
Oddly, the people of London weren't used to voting for a mayor in 2000, but 34% of them turned out. In Stoke in 2002, 24% of the electorate made it to the polls for their inaugural mayoral election and  28% of the people of Bristol turned out this Thursday to vote for their first mayor. A national turnout of 15% indicates something is seriously wrong with the policy that has led us to this. Even Conor Burns, Conservative MP in Bournemouth, was moved to tweet that he now regrets voting for the bill - although this may not be unrelated to the fact that a Bournemouth Tory councillor failed to win the post there in what seems to have been a particularly ill-tempered campaign with mudslinging aplenty. (FullFact have a series of graphs detailing turnouts here)

Every election brings a handful of ballot papers spoilt with insults to the candidates or the process, but only a handful (the candidates and the agents get to see all of them). I've never seen so many ballot papers spoilt with such clear opposition to this policy - people brought pre-prepared stickers detailing their objections or just scrawled across the paper comments opposing the politicisation of the police, the cost or even just noting that they couldn't decide because they didn't have enough information about the candidates.

This election has been an unmitigated policy disaster - a normal day at the office for this government. From the timing of the election - the cold, dark days of November do not encourage voters to trudge up dark alleyways to find polling stations, to the decision not to fund the same mailout to electors provided for all parliamentary and European elections, to the expensive error that meant emergency legislation had to be pushed through parliament to allow ballot papers in Wales to be printed in both English and Welsh, to a complete failure to explain why these posts were even necessary and even to the point that they were not made to fit in with the normal election timetable in May, just speaks of the appalling mismanagement of the implementation of a policy that the public showed absolutely no appetite for. £125 million has been poured down this drain.

I'm not sure we can draw an awful lot of firm conclusions from such a low turnout and so many additional parties in the form of independents. Indeed, in the Midlands, Cath Hannon fought an excellent campaign, even running neck and neck in Sutton Coldfield with the Tory candidate, Matt Bennett, a great achievement given the challenge of running any sort of campaign across 28 parliamentary constituencies, something that stretched even the organised parties. The Liberal Democrats, with just two candidates in the region (the other being in Gloucestershire) did see their vote slump - putting Ayoub Khan down in sixth place out of seven. Until the Birmingham vote came in, he was in serious danger of losing his deposit and he lost the Yardley vote by a crushing margin, took a beating in Solihull (both currently Liberal Democrat parliamentary seats with a solid base of Liberal Democrat councillors) and in Coventry, more people actually preferred to spoil their ballot papers than vote Liberal Democrats. The uncharitable would suggest that voting Lib Dem is actually a waste of a ballot paper in any case.

It is always possible that these posts may prove to be rampantly successful. I doubt it very much. I hope that Labour will commit to scrapping them at the first opportunity and replacing them with an effective system of local governance of the police. Ironically, the model of governance deemed unsuitable for policing has been accepted as perfectly adequate for the regional bodies designed to drive economic development and growth - the Local Enterprise Partnerships.

I wish Bob every success - he'll be a fine PCC for the West Midlands. I also hope he will be the last.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Planning Applications to 10th Nov 2012

Just a single item this week - probably uncontroversial enough.

2012/06607/PA - NatWest, 1160 Warwick Road
Display of 1 no. internally illuminated ATM surround

You can find the details by inputting the reference number into the Council online database here

If you have any comments, you can submit them online - feel free to pass your comments on to me.

Today is PCC Election Day - Vote for Bob Jones #bob4pcc

I'm not a fan of the Police and Crime Commissioner as a concept, but I do know that after today we will have one for the West Midlands, so I want the best person for that job.

Bob Jones is unquestionably the one with the most experience in holding the Chief Constable to account - he knows how the system works and appreciates the importance of the role. He's up to the job and he'll be my choice when I vote today.

The ballot paper may be new to you - don't forget that you need to make a mark next to Bob's name in the FIRST column. Only marking the second column will invalidate the vote. If you happen to make a mistake, do ask the polling station clerks for a replacement paper and return your original one to them.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Central Birmingham Carers' Event

For all carers living in Central Birmingham
Meet your local social work team

Tuesday 27th November 2012
Norman Power Centre
Skipton Road
Ladywood B16 8JJ

10:30am until 2.00pm

Birmingham Carer’s Association, in partnership with Birmingham City Council, are hosting a new type of carers event where you will be able to

Talk to council staff about some of the services they provide.
Get feedback on the ‘Commissioning Strategy for Carers to 2026’ consultation that took place between March and June 2012.
Meet members of your social work team, including senior managers.

You are welcome to drop-in at a time that suits you or stay for the
whole event.
Stalls  include:

  • Birmingham Telecare Service, a service that enables people to live independently through the use of technology
  • Customer Care and Citizen Involvement Team - how the complaints process works
  • Commissioning Strategy for Carers to 2026
  • Fairer Charging
  • The Enablement service

Tea and coffee will be provided.

For more information please call the Birmingham Carer’s Association on 0121 675 8176

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Lest we forget

Just two pictures from today's Remembrance Day ceremony in Birmingham, coinciding with the eleventh day of the eleventh month.

As always, it is touching to see the young and the old, the still serving and the retired, all gathered together to remember the sacrifices that are still being made today. For me, this isn't about approving of war, but about honouring those who have served this country - conscripts and volunteers alike - and have suffered for that service.
Even after decades away from a parade ground, the old soldiers still slip easily back into the rhythm - their backs stiffening as the parade NCO starts to issue a command and their shoes still hitting the paving in time. Amongst them, there are those currently in service and the young cadets who may yet join the armed forces.

It was also well attended by the public, with Broad Street blocked by the crowd, watching the ceremony. This year, we were blessed with a fine, crystal clear day with not a cloud in the sky.

At the going down of the sun, and in the morning, we will remember them. 

Saturday, November 10, 2012

20s Plenty

This week, the Labour-run Birmingham City Council took a decision to develop a policy on creating 20mph zones in residential areas and around schools - building on the work being done by the Parliamentary Cycling Group and the Transport, Connectivity and Sustainability Overview & Scrutiny Committee. I spoke in favour of the Labour amendment to the motion and here's the original speech. 

Lord Mayor, I surprise myself today by speaking largely in support of a motion from the Liberal Democrats. Still, I suppose even a stopped clock is right twice a day – it is just a shame that they didn’t push this policy forward during the eight years that they were almost in power in Birmingham. This is actually a cross-party issue – 20mph zones were first introduced under a Conservative government no less, simplified by Labour in 1999 and have been expanded by councils of all political colours since.  This was discussed at a recent meeting of the Transport, Connectivity and Sustainability Overview and Scrutiny Committee and I would urge that the cabinet wait to take that final report into consideration.

The arguments in favour of 20mph zones in residential areas are clear. Slower speeds mean more time to spot hazards and more time to stop safely. At 20mph, the risk of a fatal injury is just 2.5%, compared to 20% at 30mph. And we know that these zones work – the 1996 Transport Research Laboratory report saw a reduction of 60% in injury accidents and child injury accidents were cut by two thirds. Hull introduced these zones widely in the mid 1990s and saw fatal and serious injuries fall by 90%, with pedestrian casualties halving and child pedestrian injuries dropping by three quarters. The BMJ conducted a review over twenty years and showed a 40% cut in casualties and a halving of serious or fatal injuries to children – outstripping the reductions shown on other roads. This isn’t just about the emotional cost to the victims and families. Bear in mind that fatal accidents have a financial cost too  - a fatal accident is assessed at £1.7 million and even a minor crash is costed at £21,000. Warrington saw an 800% return on the investment in 20mph zones based on casualties avoided.

Again and again, the evidence shows that 20mph zones and limits work to reduce injuries and costs.

There are other powerful arguments in their favour too.

Reducing the dominance of the car in our neighbourhoods makes them better places to live – quieter and more attractive to cyclists and pedestrians. In Bristol, they found in these zones, walking increased by almost a quarter and cycling by a fifth. Again, this brings broader, measurable health benefits – every pound spent on these zones brought a return of £24 for walking and £7 for cycling. Road danger actually increases the number of car journeys and by making our roads safer, more people are prepared to walk, cycle and use public transport. By further reducing car journeys like this, our roads become safer still – creating a virtuous spiral.  This evidence has seen Liverpool PCT invest £665,000 in establishing 20 mph limits and Bristol PCT was also supportive in that city.

Some claim that these zones increase fuel consumption and while it is true that car engines are not as efficient at 20mph as they are at 30mph, I don’t see much enthusiasm for increasing the speed limit to 60mph to achieve maximum efficiency. In fact, the German experience is that 20mph zones – or their equivalent – are more efficient because they cut out hard acceleration that uses fuel and hard braking that wastes that energy. Indeed, they lead to a 12% fuel saving, which means a saving in carbon and particulate emissions.
However, Lord Mayor, my experience in trying to change behaviour in the field of energy efficiency and transport has shown that we need to carry the people with us. People have to want to change. We cannot just impose these measures across the city, but we need to consult fully with other stakeholders and – most importantly – with our residents, perhaps even united across party divide. I feel confident that if we put the hard evidence before the people of Birmingham, they will support these measures that will improve their neighbourhoods and protect lives. I urge the Council to support the Labour amendment to this motion.
Thank you, Lord Mayor. 

EDIT 14/11/12: Elsewhere on the net, somebody suggested out that I didn't understand the difference between 20mph zones and 20mph limits. I do - my phrasing may have been wrong (shoot me for trying to avoid being too technical - this isn't a legally binding document and zone is a convenient word). There is a clear difference. 20 mph zones have additional measures to calm traffic - speed humps and the like, while limits are just that. When the policy is finally formulated, both may be on offer, but funding is likely to preclude 20mph zones except in very rare cases. In any case, consultation will take place and residents' support will be vital to establishing the limit area/zone. 

This is also not "anti-car" as some would have it - I'm a car driver, as well as a pedestrian, a cyclist and a user of public transport. I probably use the car too much and I'm trying to use it less. People will always have to call on a mix of transport modes - we need to accept that, but that doesn't stop us trying to create a permissive environment that encourages them to use less carbon-intensive transport.

This isn't about being anti-car, but pro-people.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Mini motos

One of the banes of many residents' lives in Acocks Green are a number of mini motorbikes unfortunately in the possession of a few riders without consideration for other road users and neighbours. I'm delighted to report that two have been taken away by the police in recent days - one on the Stockfield Estate and another from Gospel Farm Road. A fifteen-year old male will face driving offences in court.

Monday, November 05, 2012

Planning Applications to 3 Nov 2012

Things just ticking over - another couple this week.

2012/07416/PA - 93 Hazelwood Road
Installation of dropped kerb

2012/07271/PA - Land outside 5 Olton Boulevard East

Replacement and upgrade of existing public telephone kiosk combining public telephone and cash machine service

You can find the details by inputting the reference number into the Council online database here

If you have any comments, you can submit them online - feel free to pass your comments on to me.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Cottesbrook Junior School

You may have seen this story on the front page of the Birmingham Mail today - on BBC WM's Adrian Goldberg show this morning, the Drivetime show this afternoon and BBC Midlands Today this evening.

The school have refused to comment to the media and this has meant that there's a lot of disinformation flying around. I'll try to clear that up with some facts, but I should be clear that I'm supporting the majority view of the parents at this stage, but I will try to put the school's case as I remember it. 

The school is proposing to change their opening hours every Friday to close at 1pm, rather than the usual 3:20pm, starting as usual at 8:50. This is being consulted upon by the governing body with a view to the new hours starting in January. The school proposes to run a number of free after school clubs on the Friday afternoon to help those parents who are unable to collect their children at this time and they have suggested criteria for accessing this facility. 

The reason is that the school believe that this will make it easier to deliver PPA time for their staff. This is a legal requirement to allow teachers to carry out planning, preparation and assessment work and has been part of the education landscape for a few years now. It isn't, despite the shorthand used by some parts of the media, a chance for teachers to "catch up on paperwork" as if they are lazing around in the staff room. It is vital to the provision of good education. Schools provide that time away from the classroom through a number of methods - some employ a floating teacher to cover classes in turn, others use supply staff and some bring in external companies to deliver PE or other activities. 

Last night, there was a very well-attended meeting of parents, with about 100 people present. I attended, after a number of constituents had approached me with their concerns about it and I was struck by the dedication of those parents to the education of their children - their knowledge and their passion was impressive. There was only one parent there who spoke up in favour of the proposal - the vast majority of them were utterly opposed to the idea. 

A minor issue raised was the inconvenience of picking up their children at 1pm and working that time around jobs and collecting children from other schools, including Cottesbrook Infants across the road. For most parents, the main concern was that their pupils would be losing teaching hours. Over the course of a month, this comes close to a whole school day lost.When schools are focussed on attendance, this seems to send the wrong message to pupils and parents about the value of school time. 

The school claim that other schools adjudged excellent by OFSTED operate similar hours. One example cited was Ninestiles Academy, which does close at 2:15 on alternate Fridays, but the lost hours are made up across the remainder of the week - not something part of this proposal. In any case, merely saying that other excellent schools do this does not establish that this change actually brings excellence - I'd like some evidence to support this. 

Additionally, the school says that this means that the classes will have their usual class teacher with them for all the teaching week, rather than only part of it, citing the variable quality and sheer cost (over £60k) of supply teachers as an issue. The cost is a fair comment, but other schools do manage to deliver PPA time without this change. Further, they will still not have their class teacher - or any teacher - with them on Friday afternoons, whether they are at home or in school. 

I also have concerns about the after school clubs on Friday afternoons. They will be prioritised for those pupils whose parents are either in work or education, alongside pupils with special educational needs. What worries me is that pupils with unemployed parents could be excluded from these clubs and that also sends the wrong message about the value of people. 

This is all possible because last year, Michael Gove, in his infinite wisdom, gave schools the power to change the length of the school day, removed legal minima on the number of hours to be taught each week and also removed the regulations about consultation. The school governing body can take the decision and do not need to even consult the local authority. Gove did not remove the statutory requirement for schools top open for 380 half day sessions per year - usually delivered across the 190 days that most schools are open and at first sight, this scheme appears to reduce that number of sessions down to 357 this year and 342 in subsequent years. Some parents are certainly concerned that this may actually be unlawful as proposed - that's a key question that the school need to answer.

I can't stress enough - I absolutely support the aim of this school to deliver first-class education to their pupils, but I do not believe that this is the right route and nor do the parents to whom I have spoken, people who just want the best for their children. 

What do you think? Are the parents wrong? Does this work elsewhere?

Cottesbrook Infants (where I am a governor) has no plans to consider changing their hours to match. 

Green Waste Collections end for winter on Dec 7

Just a reminder to all those keen garden waste recyclers - the last green waste collections of the season will be made on your usual fortnightly cycle between the 26th November and 7 December.

They will restart on the cycle beginning the 25th February 2013.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Planning Applications to 27 October 2012

Just a couple of applications this week:

2012/07029/PA - Christadelphian Care Homes, 17 Sherbourne Road

Installation of 3 dormer windows and 4 velux roof lights to allow internal alterations to provide staff room, male/female changing/ and creation of a 2 bed flat

2012/07180/PA - 221 Dolphin Lane
Erection of single storey rear extension

You can find the details by inputting the reference number into the Council online database here

If you have any comments, you can submit them online - feel free to pass your comments on to me.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Report - Yardley District Committee

A belated report back, I'm afraid. Our first meeting in the Council House, in the Chamber - moved at quite short notice in time and space. This perhaps didn't help with the number of members of the public attending - which I think amounted to four (although from memory, I'm not sure they could be called civilians). From next time, we should also have live web streaming available to spread visibility (perhaps we should allow interaction by Twitter....)

The minutes are now available on the Council website. To be honest, this meeting was still about setting up the parameters for the operation of the new district structure. In particular, the performance monitoring framework is still being established and we'll start to see that bear fruit over the coming months, along with an increased district focus on housing. It was noted that we don't need a complex report - essentially we should move to a system of reporting by exception, so we should expect detail on areas that are not achieving against agreed targets. We've also got the ongoing consultation into the future model for tenant involvement in neighbourhood management.

We're now also getting much more up to date financial data - no longer will it be three months behind reality, the aim is to provide it up to the end of the last month (not even quarter). Also, we've now got the financial 'savings' allocated out to each service area, rather than being grouped under a single, rather incomprehensible heading. We're still facing significant 'pressures' in this year, largely down to delays in introducing new operating models for various services, which have been the subject of 'Rapid Service Reviews' that have thus far proved to be as rapid as a dead snail nailed to the floor.

The other key issue raised was the District Convention, to which key stakeholders across Yardley will be invited, on the 10 November 2012 at South Yardley Library. This will review performance and then help create a direction for the future of the district.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The end of local government as we know it. And I don't feel fine.

"I'm the first to say we should have lower taxes and smaller government. And I'm the Chancellor who is cutting the size of Government faster than anyone in modern times. We're reducing the size of government, from almost 50% of our national income to 40%, in just five years"
Sir Albert Bore dominated the local and regional news headlines yesterday with a blunt and sobering message - thanks to decisions taken by the current national government and inaction by the previous council administration, the Labour council in Birmingham will be forced to cut back on services. Not slicing off bits and pieces here and there, but making fundamental decisions about which services we do - or do not - provide to our citizens. This is the reality of Osborne's ideological plans to cut the size of the state - it comes at a cost of services that we provide to you. 
Cllr Tim Cheetham (Lab, Barnsley MBC) wrote about this situation in an excellent article here, where he reminded us of the Barnet 'Graph of Doom' - a chastening piece of work which was done for that London borough, but seems to apply to virtually every council across the country. What it effectively means is that, given the path that this government has set, by around 2020/23, local governments will be funded to cover the costs only of adult and child social care. Nothing else will be affordable. As Tim writes,
The plain fact is that we have no fewer roads to mend, no fewer bins to empty, no fewer vulnerable adults to care for and no fewer children to safeguard. We have no less responsibility for any of the things the public have come to rely on the council to provide. In most cases we have more of these things
This massive shift will also mean that local authorities will be providing services for a minority of their residents and their voters. While just under half of the country uses a library and over a quarter use leisure services,only just over 10% of us use adult or children's services. This can't help but marginalise further these service users and reduce the value that others attach to the provision of that service. The government is, intentionally, trying to make local government less relevant to those that we represent. 
It has become apparent that this government will be imposing further cuts on Birmingham - more even than were known about by the last admininstration and some that are still to be confirmed, but are at the whim of Eric Pickles, the secretary of state at the Department of Communities and Local Government. There may be a further £50m of cuts to come - we don't know. We won't even be clear on the final settlement for 2013/14 until December or January.
Even the plan set out by the last administration, which assumed a 1.9% council tax rise in 2013, has been blown out of the water by their own Coalition government. Eric has effectively capped council tax rises at 1.66% next year, requiring a referendum for any increase greater than that. That move alone leaves a shortfall of £600,000 in next year's budget. The government are likely to fund an amount equivalent to 1% in council tax next year - as they did this year - but unlike 2011/12, the government 1% will be a one-off payment, with no lasting increase in the grant. 

Mike Whitby popped up on BBC Midlands Today to make his point that Albert was scaremongering and that this 'displays political cowardice and weak leadership.' Albert and the Cabinet, along with other Labour colleagues will be at the public consultations, unlike the previous administration, who shoved council officers out to defend their political decisions. 
Whatever people say about Sir Albert - and people say plenty of things - he knows how local government works more than perhaps anyone else I have ever met. He's been a councillor in Birmingham for 30 years, through the hard years when the chill winds of Thatcherism blew through council corridors. So, when he says that this is the worst he has ever known, you sit up and you listen. 
We have choices to make over the coming weeks and months and many of them will be unpleasant. I can promise you that Labour in Birmingham will work to protect the most vulnerable - we will throw our increasingly dented shield over them, as one of my colleagues put it.